MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday called for “continued fiscal discipline” as part of his broader call to state lawmakers to help him look for ways to attract more workers to the state and reverse an aging population that has left many businesses unable to fill hundreds of well-paying jobs.
During his State of the State speech to a joint session of the House and Senate in Montpelier, the Republican said his vision of Vermont includes a state with vibrant communities, thriving economies where people can live affordably and fewer people struggle with addiction.
“But here is the blunt reality,” Scott said. “We must first restore our economic and fiscal foundation to ensure we have the funding needed to achieve our aspirations.”
He said that during his first year in office, his administration closed a $60 million budget gap and limited budget growth to just over 1 percent while wages grew at about 2 percent without raising taxes and fees.
The way to achieve that, Scott said, is to attract more people to the state to reverse the aging trend. Vermont is “three to four years from having just one worker for every retiree, child or dependent of the state,” he added.
He called on lawmakers to work with him to attract more workers. One proposal to help that become reality is to offer tuition-free college for people who serve in the Vermont National Guard.
While the governor didn’t offer any specific proposals, he said the state’s education system, which has seen a decline of 30,000 students in the last 20 years, is overstaffed and costs continue to rise. Without a solution, property taxes are facing a steep increase this year.
“We cannot let this happen,” Scott said. “Vermonters can’t afford it, the state cannot sustain it and I will not accept it.”
Scott closed his speech with a call for unity.
“Now, I don’t know when this period of hyper-partisanship and anger will end. But I do know we can’t fight hate with hate, or anger with anger,” Scott said. “We must do everything we can to pull our nation out of darkness and restore civility and respect to our public process.”
Before Scott’s speech, some members of the Progressive Caucus said making Vermont more affordable was about more than just state spending. They called for working to reverse the growing income inequality, guaranteed health care, including lowering the costs of prescription drugs and increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“Our focus today, and our focus in general down the road, are the basic economic policies we need to address to make Vermont more affordable by making it easier for people to make a living in the state of Vermont,” said Progressive State Sen. Anthony Pollina.